It wasn’t long ago when the Philadelphia Eagles’ receiving corps was a negative for the team. Back in Carson Wentz’s rookie season (2016), many viewed his pass-catchers as a catalyst to his mid-season regression. In ’16, his leading pass-catchers (WR’s, TE’s) were; Zach Ertz (816 yards, 4 TD’s, 73.6% catch rate), Jordan Mathews (804, 3, 61.7%), and Dorial Green-Beckham (392, 2, 48.6%).
It turns out, the critics were right. In the 2017 off-season, the Eagles signed Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith to negate their lack of talent and pair with Ertz. They also let both Mathews and Green-Beckham go. In turn, the receiving corps benefited from an uptick in production. The trio of leading receivers consisted of Ertz (824, 8, 67.3%), Jeffery (789, 9, 47.5%), and 2015 rookie Nelson Agholor (768, 8, 65.3%).
Now, two years after the Eagles’ ’17 off-season, the team bolsters a deep, talented, depth chart of wide receivers and tight ends alike. Ertz leads the unit coming off of a record-breaking 116-catch, 1,163 yard, eight touchdown season. But, there is more star-power and power behind him than ever before.
The Eagles’ receiving talent should be divided up into two groups (metaphorically) — the groups; proven star, veteran talents, and a young, less-experienced, promising nucleus.
The first group, consisting of Ertz, Jeffery, and DeSean Jackson, shouldn’t be taken lightly. The trio compliments each other’s games well, and all three are projected to be team leaders in terms of receiving statistics. This should bode well for the Wentz.
But don’t get it twisted; Zach Ertz is the star of the show. In a league driven by high-level play from receiving tight ends, Ertz is amongst the leagues best. Though the NFL boasts talent at the position, including Travis Kelce and George Kittle, there may not be a better pure-receiving tight end in the NFL.
Ertz tends to be a mismatch wherever head coach Doug Pederson puts him. Whether the Eagles place him in the slot, out-wide, or as a Y-tight end, Ertz’s route-running, speed, and hands equate to an open pass-catcher more often than not. He’s also one of the better red zone targets in the NFL — Pro Football Focus gave him a 77.9 red zone grade in ’18, third amongst tight ends, just behind Kelce and Eric Ebron.
Ertz isn’t the only red zone target for Wentz. Since signing with the Eagles, receiver Alshon Jeffery has proved to be a fade route ace and big-bodied threat. Though he’s been inconsistent, Jeffery is a dependable outside receiver, and it shows in his touchdown totals for the Eagles (18). Measuring in at 6-foot-3 and 218-pounds, with a Pro-Bowl in his resume, Jeffery is an ideal outside-red zone receiver for most teams.
But the veteran talent doesn’t end there. After a five-season hiatus from the Eagles, 32-year-old DeSean Jackson comes back to Philadelphia with something to prove and immediately fills a team need. Though he’s not the dynamic force he was before his release from the Chip Kelly-led Eagles, he’s still a field-stretching deep-threat menace.
Per PFF, Jackson ranks first all-time in career deep receptions, yards, and touchdowns. He also grades as the fourth best career deep-ball receiver in terms of grades with a 98.1. Many expect him to push Wentz’ deep-throwing over the top.
Though the trio of veteran talent is exciting, the Eagles are now benefiting from an abundance of young, talented receivers as well. The group features another set of triplets in a very similar build to the veteran-laden one; tight end Dallas Goedert, red zone ace J.J. Arcega-White, and speedy deep-threat Nelson Agholor. All are 26 years old or younger.
Dallas Goedert, a 2018 second-round pick from South Dakota State, was a pleasant surprise for last year’s Eagles. Standing at 6-foot-5 and 260-pounds with a full route-tree to display, Goedert proved to be a big-bodied dynamic force. The rookie caught 33 passes for 334 yards and four touchdowns last year. However, his production isn’t a surprise, as, before the ’18 NFL Draft, NFL’s resident scout and draft expert Lance Zierlein compared him to none other than Zach Ertz.
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside fits the bill of Jeffrey’s eventual successor. Measuring in at 6-foot-2 and 225-pounds, Arcega-Whiteside has a very similar frame to the Pro Bowler. The similarities don’t end there. Arcega-Whiteside’s pro-day results, per Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com, include a 4.48-9 second 40-yard-dash, 34-inch vertical, 117-inch broad jump. Jeffrey per Tony Pauline of then SI.com recorded a 4.5 second 40-yard-dash. Eerily similar.
Arcega-Whiteside’s and Jeffery’s similarities don’t end in measurables. Both are touchdown aces, specifically on fade-routes, vertical routes, and in the red zone. Arcega-White recorded 28 touchdowns in three seasons at Stanford. Jeffery caught 23 touchdowns in as many seasons at South Carolina.
After Arcega-White is Nelson Agholor, though the USC product and ’15 first-round pick is a known commodity now, he turned 26 today. Couple his youthfulness and lack of consistency with the addition of Jackson, and Agholor fits better in the young, promising nucleus category.
Though Agholor is limited, he fits a much-needed role for a team that passes as much as the Eagles do. His speed and nuanced route-running make him a vertical threat each time he hits the field. But, his game has progressed since entering the league. He’s turned from a one-dimensional deep-threat to a true gadget play weapon and horizontal-running menace.
The sum of the six previously mentioned is that of an excellent receiving corps littered with Pro Bowlers and promising up and comers alike. But it’s unique. The Eagles, unlike any NFL team’s group of receivers, have a trio of stars backed by a trio of young stars in very similar builds to the veterans already starting. By the definition of what they have, it’s truly an odd, yet clever combination of players.
Two years ago, I wouldn’t have placed the Eagles’ receiving corps amongst the elite groups boasted by the rest of the NFL. It was, at best, above average. But in ’19, it’s hard not to rank them amongst the league’s best, in terms of depth.